Health Care

Illinois Dems plan crackdown on assault weapons

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D), left (Ron Johnson/Illinois State University via AP, Pool)

Illinois Democrats are planning a new attempt to ban assault-style firearms in next year’s legislative session, less than a year after a mass shooting at a July 4 parade left seven dead and dozens wounded.

The measure comes from state Rep. Bob Morgan (D), who witnessed the massacre at the Independence Day celebration in Highland Park in suburban Chicago.

“It’s time,” Morgan said when he unveiled a sweeping bill that included an assault-weapons ban earlier this month. “I’m confident that this comprehensive approach gets at the root of the gun violence epidemic and will save lives.” 

Morgan’s legislation will require Illinois residents who own assault weapons to register with the state. The bill would ban high-capacity magazines and raise the age for buying firearms to 21. 

It would also add to the state’s red flag law, allowing law enforcement to temporarily removing guns from individuals who are a potential danger to themselves or others for up to one year, six months more than allowed under current law.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who campaigned on cracking down on gun violence and won a second term in November, said he supports the package and wants it on his desk before the anniversary of the shooting. 

The gun push comes after Pritzker signed a bill in May cracking down on so-called ghost guns, which are homemade firearms without serial numbers. 

Democrats in Springfield have new cushions to push for gun control measures after they padded their majorities in November’s midterm elections. The party won five new seats in the House, though they lost one in the Senate. Democrats hold supermajority control of both chambers.

Only eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that generally ban the sale, manufacture, and transfer of assault weapons, according to the Giffords Law Center, which works to stop gun violence. The most recent state ban came in Delaware, which enacted a prohibition last year.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) recently said he, too, wants to outlaw assault-style weapons, including for those who already own them. But Democrats in Connecticut signaled they are cool to the idea.

Some 2.8 million so-called assault weapons were made or imported into the U.S. in 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The group estimates there are more than 24 million such weapons in the country right now. 

Stephanie Kollmann, policy director of the Children Family Justice Center at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, said that the assault ban, which would go into effect 300 days after enactment, is unworkable.

“My estimate is that there’s about 10 million items that would be declared felony contraband by this bill,” Kollmann said. “You can’t let supply of a durable good expand unchecked for decades, and then crack down. That’s not a sound policy. It’s expensive, it’s destructive, et cetera. But it’s really impossible.”

She added that the bill would also result in increased incarceration of urban minorities. Kollmann argued that, similar to drug laws, gun laws disproportionately affect minorities. 

Kollmann said gun laws are not universally enforced in the state. Some rural county prosecutors ignore the laws over concern about Second Amendment rights.

Richard Pearson, head of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the bill would hurt law-abiding gun owners, mostly those in poor neighborhoods. 

“They might have only one firearm, and then most of the time it’s semi auto and this would wind up banning either magazine or the firearm or both,” Pearson said. “Those people would be left defenseless. No criminal is going to turn in their magazines or turn in their firearms or register them with the state.”

Pearson also was critical of raising the age to purchase a firearm, citing the fact that 16 is the legal age to drive a car. He also disparaged the provision calling for the registration of existing weapons. 

“With firearms registrations there has always been complications,” Pearson said. “The only thing registration ever does is give the state the name and address of where to pick up your firearm. That’s all registration does except they make you pay for it.”